Kenney asks Albertans to reconsider New Year's plans and to not 'look for loopholes'

·3 min read

CALGARY — Alberta's premier asked people to reconsider their New Year's plans as the province recorded more than 8,000 COVID-19 cases over a five-day period.

"Follow the restrictions that are in place and please don't look for loopholes," Jason Kenney said in a news conference Tuesday.

"Keep your gatherings small and don't congregate with more than nine other adults."

Kenney joined the chief medical health officer for the province's first pandemic update since Christmas.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province's new COVID-19 cases ranged from a high of about 2,500 on Christmas Eve when there were approximately 11,500 tests, to a low of about 750 cases out of 4,000 tests on Boxing Day. The numbers are preliminary, she said.

Experts have warned that COVID-19 case numbers are likely to be much higher than reported due to the holidays, and testing centres reaching their limits.

Hospitalizations remain "relatively stable," Hinshaw said but noted it's still too soon to know if Omicron will stress the health system.

"In our fourth wave with Delta, we didn't see a steep increase in ICU admissions until about a month after our cases began to rise sharply," Hinshaw said. She expects hospital admissions to rise because of the imposing number of Omicron cases, she said.

Verified numbers, along with the number of new deaths, are expected to be available Wednesday, she said.

Rules for private events in homes, allowing up to 10 people from multiple households, vaccinated or unvaccinated were loosened just before Christmas. Children don't count against the 10-person limit.

While no new restrictions were announced Tuesday, Kenney urged eligible Albertans to get their vaccinations and boosters, and use rapid tests before attending gatherings.

The Opposition NDP said the news conference offered nothing on how the province's overburdened health care system will handle the possible surge of Omicron cases.

NDP Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman said in a release that Alberta's testing and tracing systems "have collapsed."

"We know the numbers being reported tomorrow will likely be only a fraction of the true scope of the pandemic, as currently most Albertans with symptoms don’t have access to a PCR test and we hear continual reports of pharmacies running out of rapid tests," she said.

Kenney said one million rapid tests that Alberta bought have arrived and another three million will arrive next week. The province purchased its own 10 million rapid tests.

There are currently no plans for Alberta to follow Quebec's decision in keeping some health care workers who test positive for COVID-19 on the job to avoid a breakdown in services, Kenney said.

While more of Alberta's health workers will likely need to isolate due to the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant, he said the situation isn't as serious as it is in Quebec.

But things could change, Kenney added.

"I don't think we can completely rule out that if our hospitals were under the most extreme kind of pressure, we would have to modify the self-isolation requirements to maximize the workforce."

— By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 28, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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